De Novo Dahl

Cats & Kittens

(2nd Rec; 2004)

By Amir Nezar | 27 April 2005

I’m confused. This can’t be good music. Who makes good music and then titles it Cats and Kittens anyway? Okay, so technically it’s two discs, Cats and Kittens. But still, I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to find out where exactly in their cheek De Novo Dahl’s tongue is, only to find it licking my ear, purring “have another listen.”

This stuff seems so insubstantial. I mean, the facility with which DND transition between pop and rock funk styles should be disallowed as per the “jack of all trades, master of none” rule. I mean, one moment I’m bouncing to the power-pop of “All Over Town,” only to find myself beguiled into a funk shake by the aptly titled “The Funk,” only to find myself crying to the tune of “End of Time.”

Wait, did they just stick a toy instrument squiggle in that classy funk track? And was that a Wayne Coyne impression in “Jeffrey” that preceded a Pixies chorus? What the fuck is going on, and how can I possibly enjoy this?

I have a theory: DND got together and said, “Now let’s make the catchiest album of the year.” And by gum, they did. It’s like this group of pop obsessives made Cats and its remix partner Kittens with no other point to it than for it to be catchy. Rock-operatic choruses in “I Woke Up Late,” huge pop choruses in “All Over Town,” memory-adhesive heartbreak melody in “Ryan Patrick Huseman Darrow”--it’s just a bedlam of hooks and ineffably memorable moments.

And it all sounds totally effortless. You’re likely to miss the fact that the little xylophone that’s tinkling in “Ryan Patrick Huseman Darrow” is actually carrying a melody. Or that effects-ridden subtle guitar warble in “New Belief,” which carries so much heavy emotional weight through the lounge vibe the song exudes.

Gradually, it becomes clear that the absurdly accessible exterior of Cats and Kittens is designed to invite you into a subtly emotional and compositionally clever core. These guys aren’t just harmless felines--they’re crafty pop technicians of a first order. Sure, they’ll toss you a piece of blithe pop excellence like “Be Your Man,” which seems like little more than a catchy ditty with hilarious lines like “You put me in a trance the way you fill out your pants.” But then it’ll throw a curveball in that 4/4 time signature and catchy you with your own pants down. And then before you’ve got time to pull them up you’ll find yourself flat on the floor singing along earnestly to the sweetest love song of the year in “End of Time,” crooning lyrics you’d never croon. Lyrics like “I will collect for you a million hummingbirds / And I’ll write you poetry of everlasting words.” And by the time that transcendent, orchestral coda hits, you’ll have fallen to pieces.

In under an hour, Cats proves itself to be one of the most beguilingly affecting pop records you’ve heard in ages. Kittens, its companion piece of ‘80s style dance-remixes, is nearly as charming as Cats, riding the kind of quality beats and mixing that you wouldn’t expect from a group obsessed with pop rock. Still, the real meat of the record is in the pop purity of its first disc. At worst, it’s a bit fluffy. But when it’s at its best--and that’s most of the time--it unexpectedly fulfills a golden pop promise that your first few listens will only hint at. After that it’s only a matter of time before you keep coming back over and over again to find out exactly why it’s so good.